Monday, March 21, 2016


People tell me my heart is huge. Then why does it overflow so quickly? I cannot hold all the suffering I see. So I give it away, to Grandfather, before I drown in compassion. It is not a matter of being a coward, or an ostrich, but rather my own survival. Maybe I am a coward, afraid to die of compassion. I quiet my heart by shielding it, and lose all feeling, becoming a cold shell, unable to communicate with loved ones.

The Shot

I heard the shot, a single shot, a revolver by the openness of it. I looked up, out the window, towards the sound, up the hill to my neighbor's house. I blinked, my eyes filling before my heart began to pound. It was 3:28pm.

I retired last year, moved to the southeast, a small development and home-owners association, fifty plastic-siding homes, white with green decorative shutters, and rolling clean-shaved lawns with islands of dahlias. Half of us were displaced Yankees, the other half southerners washed into the Blue Ridge mountains on waves of humidity. Only one couple, one out of fifty, was born in the state.

Tom, a Yankee, was 91, Brooklyn-born to Italian parents. His wife, Ingrid, was 92. Tom was a World War II veteran, his first day of active duty D-Day, landing at Normandy, 19 years old, flowing with the invading forces through France, Belgium, into Germany. He met his wife after the war, on the beaches of Long Island, drawn to her foreign accent and broken English. She was German, daughter of a general in Hitler's army.

Tom and Ingrid lived alone, inside their home, rarely came out. She was blind, bed-ridden. He was in better health, walked every morning past my house at 7am, spent the rest of the day taking care of his wife, cooking, cleaning, bathing, clothing.

I first met Tom on a rare walk of my own. He was getting his mail, mistook me for someone he knew, waved. He waited for me to climb the hill to the end of his driveway. He seemed lonely, wanted to talk. I gave up my walk to listen.

I thanked him, for his military service, and asked if he had gone back for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. He scoffed, said he wanted no part of it.

He talked about his parents, New York immigrants in the early 1900's, and their produce market in an Italian neighborhood. I asked about family. His brother died 40 years ago. No children.

I asked if I could bring them a meal sometime. He declined. I told him I liked to cook. He shook his head.

I later met Ingrid on a sunny day after a long stretch of rain, another excuse for me to walk. She and Tom were stationed beside their garage, enjoying the sun, she in a wheel chair, him standing behind. Her accent was heavy, her hearing poor.

It was several months later that I heard. Ingrid had just had a stroke two days earlier, was dying, was at the hospital, was not expected to live.

I heard the shot, a single shot, at 3:28pm, the same time the call had come that Ingrid had died. JS annotation code